Teachers Favor Students With Similar Personalities, Says Study

By Jordan Moeny — February 27, 2015 2 min read
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A new study out of Germany is raising more questions about teacher bias in the classroom, finding that educators tend to have more positive views of students whose personalities closely align with their own.

The study, published in Educational Psychology in January, focused on 293 German 8th graders in 72 mathematics and language arts classrooms. The students were evaluated on their reading comprehension, arithmetic, geometry, and written math problem-solving skills using two tests.

Teachers, meanwhile, were asked to make a “global judgment” comparing each student’s math and reading skills to those of the average 8th grader on a scale from 1 to 5. They were also presented with a set of math and reading questions from the student evaluations and asked to estimate how many of the questions each student would be able to answer correctly.

Both students and teachers filled out a 15-question survey based on the Big Five Inventory, which identifies an individual’s personality traits.

According to the researchers, the students’ personalities didn’t impact their results on the math and reading tests; nor, significantly, did they have an effect on their teacher’s expectations of how they would perform on the tests. But they did influence their teacher’s global judgment of students’ academic abilities. In general, students whose personalities were more similar to their teacher’s were rated more highly when compared to their peers.

The study speculates that a teacher’s knowledge about a student’s personality is generally “easier to access” than information about the student’s past academic work. That is, when a teacher thinks about a particular student, he or she may be more likely to recall personal interactions than test scores or grades. That information then influences the teacher’s judgment of the student.

This was especially true where reading comprehension was concerned; the researchers suggest that, because reading comprehension is a more difficult skill to observe and quantify than particular skills in math, teachers were more likely to rely on non-academic factors when evaluating students.

Although personality traits didn’t have an effect on students’ performance on evaluations, the study notes that the results are still relevant. “Teacher judgements are bases for immediate educational decisions, such as adapting teaching to the class’s, or individual students’ needs,” write the researchers. “Teacher judgements about their students’ achievement play an important role in everyday school context.”

Past research has shown that teacher expectations of students can impact the students’ performance. While the expectations identified in the German study were limited--focusing on skills in one particular subject rather than overall academic success--this study backs up the notion that teachers’ views of their students potential may be based on more than just classroom achievement.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.